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East Palo Alto Putting $20 Million Grant Towards Affordable Housing

EAST PALO ALTO (KPIX 5) -- The City of East Palo Alto is about halfway to its goal of building 500 new affordable housing units in five years.

Significant progress towards the goal was achieved with the announcement of the Light Tree Apartment project earlier this summer, where virtually the entire 53-year-old site at 1805 E. Bayshore Road, would be either renovated or demolished and rebuilt.

Once completed, Light Tree would have 182 affordable units, a net gain of 91 units. The new units would include 14 "critically needed" units designated for formerly homeless, disabled or "transitional youth."

The Light Tree project will be funded by a $20 million dollar grant award from the Strategic Growth Council. About $13.5 million in loans will go towards the affordable housing development, $2.25 million to SamTrans for the purchase of electric buses for a future express route to San Bruno, and the remaining $6.5 million for infrastructure improvements.

In addition, $500,000 will be set aside to provide Light Tree residents with up 650 SamTrans passes per year, for up to three years.

Moses Miller, a deacon at a local church and resident of Light Tree for more than 30 years, has been told that once new units are built on site, he would move into a new unit temporarily while his current unit is renovated. Once the renovations are complete, Miller will be moved back to his original location.

"Yeah, I'm blessed. I know that I am. When I come out of my bedroom every morning, I thank the Lord," said Miller.

East Palo Alto Assistant City Manager Sean Charpentier pointed to a city-owned parcel at 965 Weeks Street as an example of how the city is making big strides towards its 500 new affordable housing unit goal, which was approved by the city council in 2018.

The Weeks Street project will go before the city council for approval in Fall 2019. If approved, the project will build 150 units, most of which will be designated as affordable housing and suitable for larger families that require multiple rooms.

"East Palo Alto, by itself, is not going to solve the housing crisis. We do our share; more than our share. But the other cities in the region and the state are really going to have to come together in a comprehensive way to address this," said Charpentier.

Duane Bay, the executive director of EPA Can Do, a local non-profit devoted to creating more affordable housing within the city, says about 40 percent of East Palo Alto's housing stock has some form of affordable housing measure. That the second highest portion in the Bay Area, with San Francisco topping that list.

"We don't see it as a burden. It's part of what we want to do. It's part of responsibility to our community. Nor do we want to be the exclusive carriers of the vast need for housing that's affordable to working families in the Bay Area. And so we want everyone to step up," said Bay.

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